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Uncertain future of journalism

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 11:46 a.m. CST

I would like to think the School of Journalism trained me to do many things: report and edit the news, multi-task, etc. But running a strip club? Apparently, I should have gone to the Columbia School of Journalism for that.

Until recently, about the only two things journalism and the adult entertainment industry had in common were their individual struggles with the boundaries of the First Amendment. Now they have another common denominator, Dallas Morning News journalist and Columbia graduate Michael Precker. The reporter who said, "I knew in seventh grade I wanted to be a newspaperman," has instead decided his legacy will be in the strip club business.

A foreign correspondent once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Precker says he feels lucky to have his new position as manager of The Lodge, a high-end strip joint. And who wouldn’t in this economy?

"It seemed pretty clear that people of my vintage weren't going to get through retirement," 53-year-old Precker told The Wall Street Journal. Speaking on the hardships of the news industry, Precker said, “It got to be more ridiculous to hang on at a newspaper and less ridiculous to take this leap."

Unfortunately, Precker is right. My most depressing Twitter pal, TheMediaIsDying, keeps me updated on the steady decline of the industry; “LIPSTICK MAGAZINE has folded,” “MUSKOGEE PHOENIX lays off 9% of its staff,” “NEWS CORP. is eliminating about 35 jobs from its DOW JONES & CO. unit.”

Like Precker and the other journalists getting the bye-byline, Bruce Ritchie blogs “I started out this morning as a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. I ended the work day as an ‘independent journalist.’" After having his job assignment changed three times in the past year, Ritchie was finally given the axe midday.

“Maybe I'll become a blogger, combined with some freelancing, combined with being on welfare. The reality hasn't really set in yet,” Ritchie said on his blog.

Thanks to new technology and a shift in the way the public consumes news, the news industry has been struggling for a while. But dire financial times are causing hiring freezes, layoffs and company reconfigurations for the same news outlets that broke Watergate, astounded us with what Bill Clinton did in his down time and gave us our first looks into the frontlines of war. It seems the same news outlets that inform us of what’s going on are now wondering what’s going to happen to them.

We aren’t the only country feeling the pangs of journalist starvation.

The Brits are having trouble, too. Reuters published on Feb. 9, “The quality of journalism in British newspapers is declining and more mistakes are being made as editors sacrifice standards to keep up sales during the recession, an independent media charity said on Monday.”

The article went on to say, “'Journalists are under greater pressure than ever before and the situation has been made worse by the recession which has seen newsrooms cutting editorial resources,’ the MST (Media Standards Trust) said.”

We know the news industry will never die. We know it has a prominent place in our society. Like Oscar Wilde once said, “In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever.” The public will always be curious. But with the rise in bloggers and citizen journalism combined with the decrease in jobs for trained journalists and editors, how can we keep journalism reputable?

We can't. The honest press will go by the wayside if watchdog journalism is lost. What does this mean for you? Less variety, lower quality of production and a smaller pool of professionals to uncover government wrongdoings, a company’s secret or a good old-fashioned political sex scandal. But I have confidence in our country, that we will never lose our mission and drive to fight deceit and double-dealing. We've hit a rough patch, but like the battles of yellow journalism and sensationalism, I believe we will bounce back stronger and with more resolve once new revenue streams are pioneered.

Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at tracylbarnes@gmail.com.


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